herald

Saturday 10 December 2016

'Pier tragedy girl will be part of our lives forever', says brave Stephanie

Stephanie Knox, one of the heroes of the Buncrana tragedy, at the Irish Water Safety’s national awards ceremony
Stephanie Knox, one of the heroes of the Buncrana tragedy, at the Irish Water Safety’s national awards ceremony

A couple who dramatically saved a baby girl as her family drowned were among 47 rescuers honoured for their bravery.

Davitt Walsh (30), from Kerrykeel, Co Donegal, and his girlfriend Stephanie Knox (24), from Derry, were each presented with Rescue Appreciation Awards by Housing Minister Simon Coveney as part of Irish Water Safety's annual awards ceremony at Dublin Castle.

Mr Walsh was unable to attend last night's event but his friend James King, from Donegal, accepted the Seiko Just in Time Rescue Award on his behalf.

Ms Knox and her partner stopped at Buncrana pier on March 20 to take in the view and were horrified to see a car sinking into Lough Swilly off a slipway.

Mr Walsh quickly stripped down and swam out to the sinking SUV in an attempt to rescue the family trapped inside.

In a tragedy that reverberated around the country, Sean McGrotty (49), from Derry city, thrust his infant daughter, Rioghnach-Ann through the car window and into Mr Walsh's arms.

The father begged Mr Walsh to save her as he and his family, including sons Evan (8), Mark (12), his mother-in-law Ruth Daniels (57) and her daughter Jodie Lee Daniels (14) perished.

Speaking to the Herald, Ms Knox - who had the presence of mind to take off the baby's wet clothes and wrap her in her coat to stop her suffering hypothermia - said the ordeal still plays out in her head.

She recalled how the couple desperately tried to hold the baby aloft as they walked on algae that was "like actual ice".

Panic

"Every time you tried to get up you were slipping back into the water. That's when the panic set in. I thought 'I'm not going to get up with this baby'. After all this hard work we're just going to be lying here," she said.

Ms Knox said they both have nightmares about the ordeal but counselling is helping. "We've both been to see people about it and I think that's helping us a lot," she said. "We try to just forget about the past."

The couple remain in contact with Louise McGrotty, the baby's mother, and they receive photos of Rioghnach-Ann as she nears her first birthday.

"She will always be a part of both of our lives no matter what," Ms Knox said.

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